A hundred and fifty years ago, the farmer would come inside as the sun was setting.
“I just finished planting the corn,” he’d tell his wife.
“That is wonderful, dear,” she’d say.
They would sit down to the dinner she had prepared. After dinner, if they had enough wood for a bright fire, the two might sit in front of the fireplace and discuss the events of the day. Perhaps they would talk about their plans for the next day or the coming year.
“I’m thinking of buying some pods so we can plant peas next year.”
“Hmm. That sounds nice. And, you know, the boys are getting older, we should buy some cloth so that I can sew them new clothing for the winter.”
“Yes, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s ride to the general store Sunday next.”
If the fire burned out or they felt sleepy, they would go to sleep, ready to wake with the sun and work the fields or clean the house and feed the children.
A Society Of Stress
People definitely had stress one hundred and fifty years ago, but it was a different kind of stress. When the workday was over, there was nothing left to do. You knew when you had finished the planting or shoed the last horse that your work was done. While many things have changed, two of the most profound changes are that much of our work is “knowledge work” and that our workday does not have clear boundaries.
Both of these new developments – knowledge work and lack of a defined workday – contribute to a more stressful day and stressed mind. Many people I speak to have trouble going to sleep at night because there are so many things that are still “not done.” These endless tasks can leave a person feeling worn out and enervated, even if he has not “worked” at all.
Another reason we feel overwhelmed is because we are not truly in survival mode anymore, as had been for most of our history. In survival mode, we don’t have time to worry about the minutiae of everyday life – instead we simply worry about surviving. When we are not in survival mode, our bodies allow all the minor worrisome details to flood our brains. You end up worrying about the air conditioner, taxes, lines at the grocery store, and whether you’re getting a cold. Not to mention all of the things that you need to finish before the day is over.
Getting Things Done
David Allen, author of the book Getting Things Done, suggests multiple ways to get your life in order. As there is so much knowledge work people do today, they need a more sophisticated organizing principle than simply making a list or using a calendar. Allen calls this first step “capture.”
There are several ways to capture the tasks before you:
a) A physical inbox. For all those bills, invitations, and returns that need to get done, a box or basket is essential. When a bill comes in that you cannot pay right away, place the envelope in the inbox to be taken care of later. The most important part of the physical inbox is that it must be sorted and handled weekly (more on this in the review section). Setting aside an hour or two once a week to clear it out will allow you peace of mind, knowing that those things will get done.
b) Lists. Your brain can only easily remember a sequence of seven items. Therefore, it is essential to have a place – either electronic or physical – in which you write down all the projects or tasks that need to be completed. This can clear your head for all the other important things that are going on in your day. Once they are on the list, you move on to the next method, which Allen calls do it, defer it, delegate it, drop it.